expedition handbook

This Handbook contains everything you need to know about this Secret Compass epic expedition to trek Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor.

Read on to discover our ethos and team-centered approach and for the nitty gritty like flight and visa advice, insurance requirements and kit recommendations.

Use the buttons below to ask questions or if this handbook answers all of your questions you can request a space on the ​team by completing the booking form and submitting a deposit (bound by our T&Cs).

We will then be in touch by phone or email​ ​to hopefully approve your place on the team!

Upcoming Expedition Dates

  • 12 July to 2 August 2021.

Key Facts

  • Arrive: by 0900 on Day 1 into Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
  • Depart: leave Dushanbe any time on Day 22.
  • Insurance: Ensure you have comprehensive cover.
  • Docs: send your flight, insurance and passport copy in.
  • Balance due: 90 days before departure.
  • Find FAQ and Testimonials online.


The aim of this epic Afghanistan expedition is to trek between the Big Pamir and the Little Pamir mountain ranges in the country’s Wakhan Corridor, via the remote Showr Pass.


The Wakhan region is the narrow panhandle of land that stretches out from Afghanistan’s north-eastern corner. It’s bordered by Tajikistan to the north and Pakistan to the south, with China lying beyond the corridor’s mountainous easterly border. Although you will be trekking in Afghanistan’s newest protected area, the Wakhan National Park, this expedition is no walk in the park. Arduous days, steep and rocky passes and altitudes approaching 5000m all collide to create a challenging trek in one of the most isolated yet culturally rewarding places on earth.


  • Explore Afghanistan’s vast Wakhan National Park.
  • Visit semi-nomadic Kyrgyz and Wakhi communities.
  • Forge a trekking route through the Little and Big Pamir.
  • Experience a side of Afghanistan untouched by war.
  • Trek across fertile plains and high-altitude passes (approaching 5000m).
  • Travel by road across Tajikistan to reach the Wakhan.
  • Relive the Great Game in the footsteps of Lord Curzon, John Wood and Francis Younghusband.
  • Look out for games of buzkashi, the Afghan national sport.


You need to organise your own international flights.

It is advised that you book a flexible flight ticket that can be changed or refunded if the expedition dates are changed or if it is cancelled for any reason. See our online Terms and Conditions.

You need to arrive in Dushanbe, ready for onwards travel by 0900 on Day 1. Many flights arrive in the early hours of the morning or you can choose to arrive early and extend your trip by a few days. The expedition officially ends after breakfast on the last day of your expedition, Day 22, although you are free to depart anytime as many flights depart early in the morning.


Travel insurance that provides cover for emergency repatriation in case of a medical emergency is compulsory for all expeditions. You should be aware that many standard insurance policies may not cover you adequately for all aspects of a remote expedition and so we strongly recommend that you purchase a suitably designed insurance policy.

Secret Compass cannot comment on the suitability of your cover so if you are in any doubt please contact your policy provider and ask them to confirm that you are covered to our minimum standard (below).

  • Emergency medical repatriation (to home country) including any associated expenses abroad: at least $500,000.
  • Activities: ensure that any expedition activities are included, these could be trekking, horse riding, rafting, MTB etc.
  • Geographical region: check the geographical region you are going to is insured (often the US and Canada or countries such as Afghanistan aren’t).
  • Foreign Ministry advice: check your insurance is not sensitive to any travel warnings issued by your respective foreign ministry. In the UK, many insurers will not insure you when the Foreign Office warns against travel to this area. Foreign Office advice will not necessarily mean we cancel an expedition or do not travel to a particular area. Please check @FCOtravel and the Travel Aware site.
  • Dates: make sure the period of cover begins at the departure and ends at the return to your home country. Many flights take a day or two and time zones vary. Insurance companies may prejudice your claims due to this.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions: disclose these to your insurance company and to Secret Compass.

Prior to travel Secret Compass will require the name of your insurance policy provider, their 24-hour emergency contact number and your policy number. For full information on travel insurance and links to suggested companies, please visit our Expedition Travel Insurance page.


Visas are your responsibility, please check the specific requirements for your Nationality and ensure you start the visa application process in good time. Details are given on the “VISA” tab for for UK Citizens applying at the Tajikistan and Afghanistan embassies in London,  however, for all travellers, it is your responsibility to ensure you have all the correct approvals and documents in place before travel. If you have any questions regarding your specific situation which are not answered here or by your own research, get in touch.


You should have a passport valid for the duration of the expedition and for six months beyond your travel dates. Please send a clear, colour copy of your passport to Secret Compass ahead of the expedition and carry photocopies with you on the expedition in a safe place.

Visas are your responsibility, please check the specific requirements for your Nationality and ensure you start the visa application process in good time. Details are given below for for UK Citizens applying at the Tajikistan and Afghanistan embassies in London. Please note that these application processes are subject to change, particularly if you are a team mate on one of our later expeditions departures.

Tajikistan Visa and GBAO Permit

You will need to apply for a one month double entry tourist visa. For this expedition you will also need to apply for a GBAO permit (Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast) in advance to enter southern Tajikistan. Most nationalities can apply for double-entry visas and GBAO permits directly with the relevant embassy and will need to visit the Embassy in person to provide biometric data, but be aware that regulations vary by embassy.  Please note that Tajikistan e-visas are not valid for double-entry and so are not valid for this expedition. Similarly, the visa on arrival service which is available for some nationalities without embassies in their country of residency does not enable you to apply for a GBAO permit in advance so is also not suitable for most team mates.

Details are below for UK Citizens applying via the Tajikistan Embassy in London.

In order to apply for a visa for Tajikistan via the London Embassy you will need to fill in an online application form and once this has been processed you will need to visit the embassy in person to submit biometric data. To complete the application form you will need to upload digital copies of:

  • Passport.
  • Passport photograph.
  • Letter of petition from Tourist Company (provided by Secret Compass).

Secret Compass will write a Letter of petition for you and will send that to you in due course.  For the LOI we will need a copy of your passport, the location of the embassy which you intend to apply to and also the date you intend to enter Tajikistan.

Once you have completed the online application you will then receive an email with further instructions and will be required to visit the embassy in person to provide biometric data.

For Tajikistan, the hotel details will be confirmed when we email you your Letter of Petition (LOI). Your entry and exit dates should be the first day that you plan on entering Tajikistan to the 29th day after that (to give you the maximum time on a 30 day visa option).  Examples for upcoming departure dates are given below. 

  • Expedition dates: 12 July to 02 August 2021 – suggested entry and exit dates 12 July and 10th August.

In all cases, be aware that visas are start date specific so if you intend on arriving early into Tajikistan ensure you take this into account.

You also need to apply for your GBAO permit through the Embassy in London. The cost is £50 and you will need to provide a letter explaining the purpose of your trip to this area (you can use a copy of the Letter of petition for this). Ensure that the GBAO permit covers ‘all areas’.


Afghanistan Visa

You will need to apply for a one month single entry tourist visa. Details are given below for applications via the Afghan Embassy in London, please research the specific requirements for your nationality/residency.

Applications at the London embassy can be made in person or by a Visa Assistance Company such as TravCour (for UK residents/nationals). In order to apply for the visa you will need the following:

  • One completed visa application form.
  • Two passport photographs.
  • Invitation letter from your tour operator (see below).
  • Utility bill/ ID to confirm UK address.
  • Evidence of Employment in the UK.
  • Passport with minimum 6 months validity.
  • A personal statement describing the purpose of the journey and a brief itinerary. The statement should also indicate that the applicant is aware of the risks involved in the journey and takes full responsibility of any liability arising during or as a result of the trip to Afghanistan.
  • Payment.

Secret Compass will obtain a letter of invitation from the Wakhan tourist board and will send that to you in due course which you may then use to obtain your Afghan visa. For the LOI we will need a copy of your passport and the location of the embassy which you intend to apply to.

In Afghanistan you will stay at Juma Guls Guesthouse, Ishkhashim. You will be conducting tourist trekking in the Wakhan Valley. You should put your entry date as Day 1 of the expedition dates and your exit date should be the same day of the following month. Examples for upcoming departure dates are given below. 

  • Expedition dates: 12 July to 02 August 2021 – suggested entry and exit dates 12 July and 12th August.


Day 1 – Dushanbe

Many flights arrive in the early hours of the morning so Secret Compass will arrange a briefing at a hotel in Dushanbe. Team members should arrive in Dushanbe by 0900. The expedition then starts with a drive along the beautiful Pamir Highway to Kalaikhum where there is a comfortable guesthouse.

Day 2 – Khorog

From Kalaikhum, you’ll drive along the banks of the Panj river, a tributary of the famous river Oxus, hugging the Tajikistan – Afghanistan border as you continue on the Pamir highway.  Tonight you’ll stay in Khorog.

Day 3 – Khunded

Set off early to complete your drive along the Pamir Highway, crossing the Panj River at Ishkashim and crossing the border into Afghanistan.  After a morning to arrange permits and supplies, you’ll meet your local guide and then travel to Khunded, a village which acts as the Wakhi district centre in order to organize more permits. Your final destination depends on progress that day.

Day 4 – Wakhan Corridor

Continuing east along the valley, you’ll aim to arrive at the trailhead today. There may be delays on the drive, due to vehicle breakdown or the poor state of the road.

Day 5 – Wakhan Corridor

Today will be spent arranging yaks and horses for the trek ahead. You’ll have an opportunity to stretch your legs after all the travel with an acclimatisation walk.

Day 6 to 17 – Wakhan Corridor

Eleven days are earmarked for the trekking section of your expedition. Overnight stops will be dictated by team speed, local support and myriad other factors. This route description assumes a start point at Wurzed although this may be reversed at the expedition leader’s discretion.

From Wurzed, you’ll climb up a steep valley towards the first high pass, the 4460m Wurzed pass, the gateway to the high altitude valleys where the Wakhi have their summer grazing. As you approach 4000m there are stunning views of the Hindu Kush to the south and glaciated peaks dominating the horizon. Dropping down into the Shirkirga valley there is a small Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Ranger station and the high end of the valley is full of Marco Polo sheep and ibex. After a small but tough climb you’ll enter the windswept Big Pamir, being rewarding with sweeping views overlooking the Tajik Pamirs in the distance.

From the beautifully situated yurt settlement of Manjalaq, you’ll cross over into the classic Pamir U-shaped valley of Ali Su, a holy place for Ismaeli Muslims. A tricky river crossing and steep climb takes you back up the bone-dry plateau towards Jelsarmet. Leaving Wakhi territory and moving east towards Kyrgyz lands across the plain of the Big Pamir, the landscape opens up to a wide high altitude plateau (or Pamir).

The trekking route takes you across several valleys intercutting the plateau through Kyrgyz territory. Their settlements move three or four times a year and so the exact location of their camps is uncertain.

Pushing eastbound, with the legendary lake Zorkul becoming visible in the distance, your route continues past river valleys fringed with unclimbed 5000m+ peaks. Mula will be the last Kyrgyz settlement before the 4895m Showr Pass which connects the dry high-altitude plains of the Big Pamir with the Little Pamir. It’s a long but rewarding day crossing rugged terrain and it is likely to be snow bound at the top. On the far side is Wakhi territory again with wide, glaciated valleys lush with pasture from snowmelt. Descending down the valley to the pickup point, don’t forget to look behind at the stunning views back down into the main Wakhan valley before driving out from Sarhad back towards Ishkashim.

Day 18 – Ishkashim

Returning to Ishkashim for one final night in Afghansistan, you’ll say goodbye to the local guides and spend the night in a comfortable guesthouse.

Day 19 – Kalaikhum

Returning to the Pamir Highway, you’ll re-enter Tajikistan and drive to Kalaikhum.

Day 20 – Dushanbe

After a final day of travel, return to Dushanbe and the team hotel.

Day 21 – Dushanbe

Today acts as a contingency day in case of delays on the expedition and provides the opportunity to explore Dushanbe, to do some sightseeing and to pick up souvenirs.

Day 22 – Dushanbe

Fly home or extend your stay in Dushanbe. Many flights depart in the early hours of the morning but the expedition officially ends after breakfast today.

Note on this Expedition Itinerary

Please remember that this itinerary acts as a framework plan. It provides guidance as to our intentions but will not be followed religiously. This is an adventure and by definition the outcome is uncertain. The leadership team may flex and change the plan depending on numerous frictions encountered en route. An adaptable, team-centred approach is required.

Plan B

Should events in the region dictate that this itinerary is no longer possible, Secret Compass will move the expedition location – this decision may be taken prior to departure or at any point during the expedition duration. An alternative itinerary exploring the Pamir Mountains on the Tajikistan side of the border has been fully developed and has been our “Plan B” for several years.  For more information on this alternate itinerary, please contact Secret Compass.


All our expeditions are achievable by people with an active and healthy lifestyle. However, this is an arduous expedition that will test you and at times you may be sore, tired, hungry and possibly wet! You must be prepared physically and mentally for the expedition and for living in basic conditions for the duration. Please ensure that you train accordingly and arrive fit and ready to go. You will be required to be fit enough for the following.

  • Expedition Grade: 360° (our toughest).
  • Daily activity: up to 10 hours trekking per day.
  • Walk: up to 25km a day.
  • Carry: up to 12kg.
  • Terrain: over rough, mountainous, steep terrain up to 4850m.
  • Climate: temperate mountain climate with exposed conditions at times.

Special note on the Wakhan: the combination of being above 4000m for the majority of the trip, a change in diet and camping all combine to wear people down. Be prepared for this to be a tough trip!

Previous Experience

The fitness requirements must be met. Beyond that, there are no specific requirements however team members would benefit from multi-day trekking or hill-walking and camping practice and being used to carrying 10-15kg for multiple days.


VACCINATIONS. Please seek advice from your health professional on recommended vaccinations. The NHS Fit For Travel site and Travel Health Pro are both useful.

DENTAL. It is strongly recommended that you have a dental check up prior to departure. Dental problems far from help are very unpleasant.


TAJIKISTAN. Bring US dollars with you to change for local currency as Euro or other currency are hard to exchange. There will only be access to cash through bank machines in Dushanbe, in which case Visa is best.

AFGHANISTAN. Bring US dollars to change for Afghanis before leaving Ishkashim with local money changers. There will be no access to ATMs.

This expedition is all inclusive so you won’t need much money – only really if you want to buy a beer in Dushanbe and some souvenirs on the way.

The following is Secret Compass’s recommended kit list for our expedition to Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor. All items should be considered essential unless otherwise stated, if you have a query about an item of equipment please get in touch.  You will be required to carry a daysack with everything you will need during the day whilst horses and yaks will carry your main pack. Secret Compass will supply tents and cooking equipment.


Secret Compass has arranged team member discounts with Cotswold Outdoor, Nordic Life, Outdoor Hire and Expedition Kit Hire, details of these will be sent through on booking.

Baggage and Sleeping

  • RUCKSACK OR DUFFLE BAG: 60-90 litre. All personal kit needs to fit in one bag which will be carried by the pack animals.
  • DAYSACK: 30-40 litre. Needs to fit in all your essentials for the day and be comfortable to carry.
  • WATERPROOF RUCKSACK LINER: Sealable ‘canoe’ or ‘dry’ bags made by Podsac or Ortlieb etc.
  • SLEEPING BAG: Rated to at least -10°C comfort. Nights will drop below freezing. Down is a good option but protect it with a waterproof stuff sack.
  • SLEEPING BAG LINER: Optional. For lower altitudes, when it’s warm.
  • SLEEPING PAD: Thermarest or equivalent. Bring a repair kit.


  • 2x WICKING LAYERS: Quick dry expedition shirt or T-Shirt, not cotton).
  • 1x THERMAL BASE LAYER: Long sleeved thermal top. Helly Hansen or equivalent.
  • 1x LONG TREKKING TROUSERS: Quick drying, not cotton.
  • 2x MID LAYER: Fleece or equivalent.
  • 1x DOWN JACKET: A warm down jacket is essential, store it in a waterproof stuff sack.
  • 1x WATERPROOF JACKET AND TROUSERS: Gore-tex or equivalent.
  • 1x WALKING BOOTS: Must be boots NOT trainers, and must provide ankle support and be worn in before the expedition. Please consult your nearest outdoor store for advice on choosing the correct boot.
  • 4x HIKING SOCKS: Make sure they fit well with your boots.
  • SANDALS: For around camp and river crossings. Not flip flops.
  • WIDE BRIMMED SUN HAT. Essential for preventing sun-stroke at high altitudes.
  • HEAD SCARF: Compulsory for women whilst in settlements in Afghanistan.
  • 4x UNDERWEAR: Sport or cycling-styled shorts don’t chafe.


  • MUG.
  • KNIFE, FORK, SPOON: Or just a spork –titanium recommended for durability.
  • 2x ROBUST WATER BOTTLE OR BLADDER: Nalgene or Sigg are recommended. You need to be able to carry a minimum of three litres of water between bottles and/or a water bladder.

Health and Hygiene

  • WASHBAG: Must pack down small – you don’t need a huge washbag. Small dry bags or re-sealable freezer bags are ideal.
  • SOAP: Anti-bacterial and biodegradable. Consider a concentrate eg. Lifeventure Allpurpose Wash.
  • HAND SANITISER: Bring enough for the whole trip.
  • SANITARY PRODUCTS: Bring ziplock bags for used items.
  • LIP SALVE: With UV protection.
  • VASELINE: Keep readily available on to prevent chafing skin and heel friction blisters.

Small First Aid Kit

A team medical kit with a comprehensive primary care provision will be carried.

  • A WATERPROOF BAG OR TUPPERWARE BOX: Keep kit dry and safe.
  • PAINKILLERS: Ibuprofen and Paracetamol.
  • COMPEED BLISTER PADS: Please note that Compeed produce several similar looking blister packs for corns, etc. Please ensure you purchase the standard/original item.
  • PIRITON TABLETS: For allergies.
  • EURAX CREAM: For bites.
  • ANY MEDICATION YOU NORMALLY USE: Find out the generic/chemical name for your medication in case you need to source more in-country. Please also check that your medication is legal in your destination. You MUST make Secret Compass aware of any medical conditions before you travel.


  • TREKKING POLES: Optional. Many team members find trekking poles useful on slippery or uneven terrain or for steep descents.
  • HEAD TORCH AND SPARE BATTERIES: Petzl Tikka heard torch or equivalent.
  • SUNGLASSES: With UV-filter lenses.
  • PENKNIFE: Don’t pack in your hand luggage.
  • GAFFA TAPE: For emergency repairs to your kit, you can take some off the roll and wrap it around something else in your kit.
  • 1 x KARABINER: For securing your rucksack.
  • RE-SEALABLE PLASTIC BAGS: For dirty washing, wrappings etc.
  • PASSPORT PHOTOS: You will need 8 copies for permits and as spares.
  • PHOTOCOPIES OF PASSPORT: You will need 8 x good quality copies of your passport for Wakhan permits.
  • PHOTOCOPIES OF VISAS: You should carry 8 x good quality copies of your Tajik visa including your GBAO permit and 4 x copies of your Afghan visa.  These should all be printed on separate sheets of paper in case they need to be handed over at check points.

Our Approach

Secret Compass organises expeditions, not sightseeing tours. Our expeditions are team-centred, flexible and dynamic. Teams are managed on the ground by Secret Compass staff: industry-leading professionals and guides of the highest calibre. They put the structure in place for your team to have an incredible experience while achieving your expedition’s aims. Our people are as passionate as you are about achieving the extraordinary in the world’s wildest places. Secret Compass teams often go to places that others don’t. This makes our expeditions truly different, taking you beneath the skin and beyond the headlines of the world’s most remote reaches. Inspired by history’s great explorers and challenges, you’ll be set ambitious goals and will overcome similar hardships to those experienced on the audacious journeys of the past.

Remember this is not an organised tour. It is an adventure. More often than not expeditions don’t run smoothly! The nature of the areas we operate in mean that we will encounter a number of challenges that we expect everyone to meet and relish. Friction and hurdles are all part and parcel of an arduous expedition and also to our success as a team. These make the journey more interesting and are often the best and most amusing parts when looking back. Each expedition is thoroughly reviewed on its return and team members will have the opportunity to provide feedback which helps to inform planning for future expeditions.

Local Partners and Bureaucracy

Our teammates can only achieve the extraordinary with the help of people in the communities we travel through. NGO and aid workers, guides, fixers and interpreters all work extremely hard and are generous in their hospitality to us and our teams: visitors in their land. They are crucial to our success. Please remember and respect that their perspectives and concepts of time, environmental responsibility and customer service might differ to yours. Occasionally there is no established protocol for outside visitors which means we encounter local power struggles or disagreements. Our leaders have years of experience in delicate negotiations like these and conversational chess – especially through an interpreter – and these interchanges are often memorable parts of any expedition.

Infrastructure and Natural Events

The areas we travel to often especially remote. Transport infrastructure can be ageing, inadequate or non-existent. Flooded roads, collapsed bridges, fallen trees and vehicle break-downs are all par for the course. Our teams thrive on overcoming challenges like these – be prepared to get stuck in and push occasionally! Natural phenomena like desert sand storms, early monsoons, landslides across key routes, winter coming early, gale force winds and driving snow can all make for a more interesting time on the expedition.


In some areas our teams explore, we rely on local food sources. This can often be outstanding (but can also be very average) and we always make the best out of the resources available. In other cases, we will supply filling and high-calorie dehydrated expedition foods (ration packs)

Part of a Team

Secret Compass fosters a team mentality across all its expeditions and projects. Like all teams you will have a leader who will give direction to your progress. Crucial to your team’s success – especially when the going gets tough – is the attitude of the teammates working together to achieve the aim. You really are part of a team, not a cosseted guest on a tour. We ask teammates to muck in and help out any aspect of the expedition, from fetching water and helping to prepare and cook food, to carrying some group kit and equipment if required. The working language of all teams is English.

Typical Teammates

There really is no typical expedition member, though everyone needs to be fit, healthy and ready to take on the expedition’s aim by the time of departure. Participants range from 21 to 65+ in age and come from all over the world. Backgrounds include contract workers and engineers, IT specialists and students, teachers and literature lovers, journalists and keen photographers and so many more. What bonds our pioneering teams is their shared spirit of adventure and their sense of humour and positive outlook. A good teammate looks on the bright side when the 4×4 breaks down, the rain comes early and when a meal is distinctly pedestrian. Our teammates help each other, look out for each, encourage each other and help each other when needed. Our teams have done us proud in working together to achieve their common goal: the aim of the expedition. If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right expedition company.

Teammate Mentality

You need a robust, spirited and can-do attitude to cope with demanding days and rough camping in rugged and wild places. You’ll cover good daily distances (generally carrying your own kit and equipment), eating expedition foods or relying on local food sources. These elements combine to create the unique character of each expedition. On expedition, challenges, frictions and changes to plans are inevitable. Teammates should meet and relish these as an integral part of any arduous expedition and its ultimate success. Such things make the journey more interesting and are often most memorable parts when looking back.

Risk Management

Secret Compass is an expedition company not a tour company. Expeditions contain inherent risk. This is part of the appeal for teammates. We do not make expeditions safe as, by definition, that is impossible. We construct and implement a three-staged risk management approach to reduce risk to what we perceive as a tolerable level.

  1. Risk assessment.
    We conduct a thorough risk assessment of potential hazards and threats that may be encountered on the expedition and provide recommendations to reduce the likelihood of harm occurring/ severity if it does occur.
  2. Safety plan.
    As part of our expedition plan, we detail actions to be taken to implement and resource the recommendations of the risk assessment. This includes a detailed medical and communications plan.
  3. Delivery.
    The expedition leader is responsible for dynamic risk management on the expedition itself.

Key Risks

Key risks encountered on this specific expedition include altitude sickness, RTA’s, pack animals and travellers gastroenteritis. If you would like to see the full Risk Assessment for this expedition, please email info@secretcompass.com

Incident Management and Medical

As part of the safety plan, Secret Compass has a full incident and emergency plan for medical and other emergencies. This will be discussed in full at the arrival brief, so everyone is aware what action will be taken. In summary, incidences are usually managed on the ground by the expedition leader in the first instance with remote support from Secret Compass’s 24 hour Operations Room before evacuation to the nearest appropriate medical centre.

Informed Consent

It is your responsibility to understand the risks associated with adventure travel in remote areas. You also must understand that medical evacuation will take an extended period of time (potentially up to four days) and will require wilderness extraction techniques and long carries by stretcher. In-country search and rescue and emergency services are very basic or non-existent and the expedition will rely on internal resources for medical evacuation. By joining this expedition, you accept the risks associated with the venture. If you require any more information on specific risk management for this expedition, or would like to speak to us about our medical planning prior to the trip, please get in touch.


Read team Testimonials or watch this short video featuring expedition teammates (filmed on location in Ethiopia) for an insight into life on expedition.



This expedition will cover a variety of terrain from deep U-shaped valleys to high mountain passes reaching 5000m. Much of the expedition will be above 4000m which adds to the challenge of the uneven, steep terrain and numerous river crossings.


The climate in the Wakhan is relatively stable, it receives very little precipitation each year, however you can experience multiple days of snow and rain. It does have a reputation for having strong winds – even Marco Polo commented on them! These blow in the afternoon and are very dry. Above 4000m it is chilly as soon as the wind picks up or the sun goes away. Remember this is a mountainous area and you will be travelling at altitude. The weather can be unpredictable and can change rapidly so you should be prepared accordingly.


Dushanbe airport is located on the outskirts of the city with easy access via hotel shuttles and taxis. The team will use 4WD vehicles to reach the trailhead. Whilst driving in Tajikistan, the roads are relatively good although they are often unsurfaced which can lead to delays following landslides or heavy rain. In contrast, the roads in Afghanistan are very bad so you should expect progress to be slow and to involve river crossings or vehicle breakdowns.

The majority of the expedition will be on foot. You will carry your day sack with personal effects required during the daytime; your main rucksack will be stowed on the pack animals. If anyone is feeling unwell or suffering with the altitude or if we need to catch up on time on the route, the animals will assist us with this as well as providing support for river crossings. We don’t ask that you are an experienced rider, just that you are comfortable around animals and are willing to try if required.


While driving, the team will stay in a selection of guesthouses. These vary in the amenities they offer but you should expect to sleep on the floor of group rooms in your sleeping bag. Once the trek starts, the team will be camping in tents provided by Secret Compass. On occasions, if the opportunity arises, you will stay in small shelters or yurts provided by locals. Be aware toilet facilities are non-existent and require a long walk and washing facilities will be the local stream.


In towns, the team will eat well in local restaurants, in Tajikistan it is often kebab or rice-based and vegetarians struggle for variety. Once on the trek, all our food will be sourced in country. In Afghanistan most food is rice based with nan and vegetables, often beans, with little meat.

On the trek we will have a cook attached who will make up meals from ingredients sourced in Ishkashim. The food on the trek is based on rice, potatoes or pasta and the cook usually manages to produce tasty options from limited resources.

In the Wakhan we will also source food from the locals, which are mainly dairy based products such as yogurt. The local staple is the following: breakfast is milky tea and unleven bread, lunch is milky tea and bread and dinner is milky tea, bread, rice and often one of: double cream, creamy rice or cheese and stew for special occasions. It is advised that you bring your own favourite trail snacks for a morale boost on the trekking portion.

If you have any dietary requirements, please disclose these to Secret Compass on your Booking Form.

Cultural: Ethnic Groups

  • Tajikistan. In and around Dushanbe the people are of Tajik ethnicity. They are Muslim. However, it is relaxed, people wear western clothes and drink alcohol. The main languages are Tajik (a variety of Persian) and Russian. English is spoken but not widely.
  • Tajikistan. GBAO area: the GBAO area is inhabited by the Pamiri people, a distinct ethnic group. They are Ismaili Muslims and follow the Aga Khan, who is their spiritual leader. He is a billionaire based in Paris and runs the Aga Khan Foundation and development organisations that are very active in the region and in Afghanistan. Ismailis are liberal Muslims who don’t pray five times a day nor do they fast for Ramadam. Ismaili women also enjoy a more equal relationship.
  • Afghanistan. Ishkashim is made up of an eclectic mix of people. The majority are Tajik Afghans. They are much more conservative than their cousins over the border. Many women will be veiled in a burkha and all will have headscarves. They will pray five times a day and wear traditional Afghan dress. In Ishkashim do not try and converse with a women if you are a man. Dari is spoken, again a form of Persian. English is not widely spoken.
  • Afghanistan’s Wakhi community: the Wakhi are related to the Pamiri people of Tajikistan. They are also Ismaili Muslims, friendly and relaxed. Wakhi women wear colourful clothes and are allowed to speak to other men. They speak Wakhi and Dari and are semi-nomadic.
  • Afghanistan’s Kyrgyz community: the Kyrgyz are descended from Mongolian nomads and so look very different to the other people you will meet. They are Sunni Muslims and speak Kyrgyz but can also speak Dari. They speak no English. They are nomadic, moving between summer and winter pastures. As they are so isolated and hemmed in by international borders their range is limited. A proud people, they are completely isolated form modern life.


Men should wear long trousers and long sleeves in Ishkashim whilst women should cover legs and arms and wear a headscarf. In Tajikistan women will get away with a T-shirt and no headscarf. When trekking in the mountains it will be possible to remove the headscarf, but when in villages or meeting new people on the way it will be necessary.

Local Dynamics

We are only going to be able to achieve what we want with the help of people in the communities we travel through. The people will be very hospitable and friendly to us, strangers in their land. Please remember that they are from a completely different culture to us and look at life from a very different perspective. Do not apply western logic to their thoughts, which are affected by factors we don’t understand. They will not have the same concept of time, environmental responsibility or ‘customer service’. They will be late, may be unreliable (in our eyes) and will do things completely differently to us. The concept of a business transaction is not the same as ours and they will not apply our logic. Again, all part of the fun. Never express anger at an Afghan, it can destroy the relationship; patience and understanding are our tools.

Dos and Don’ts

  • Alcohol is forbidden in Afghanistan (it’s fine in Tajikistan).
  • Never express anger at an Afghan, see above.
  • Do not point the soles of your feet or shoes directly at another person.
  • Take shoes off when going inside (and on rugs outside) place sole down.
  • Only use your right hand to eat and offer food.
  • Dress appropriately.


Secret Compass staff will be carrying at least two methods of communication, usually a Satellite Phone and a DeLorme two-way communication device. These will be used for regular updates to head office and for emergencies.
Unfortunately, routine communication between team members and family/friends is not possible – please reassure them that no news is good news! If there is an emergency and someone needs to contact a team member, they can contact Secret Compass’s Operations Room on +44207 096 8428 who will endeavour to pass a message on within 24hours.

Cell Phone. Your mobile roaming will work in Dushanbe and perhaps in some parts of Ishkashim, but you are unlikely to get signal whilst in the Wakhan Corridor. There will be no opportunity to charge electronics during the trek so please come prepared with spare batteries, power packs or solar chargers.

Here are some frequently asked questions that are specific to this expedition. Read our General FAQ too for questions such as ‘how do I join an expedition’ and more. Can’t find your answer? Contact SCHQ.

I’m a vegetarian. Can I join?

Teammates with dietary requirements are welcome to apply for this expedition and should state their specific requirements when applying, sometimes vegetarians find they have limited options at meal times. The food situation is outlined in the Practicalities tab.

I’ve never been trekking before. Can I come?

Yes. As long as you fulfil the fitness requirements and have an adventurous spirit and willing to work as a team, then you are welcome to apply. Team members on this expedition will benefit from previous multi-day trekking/walking experience and camping.

Can I charge electricals?

Once the expedition phase begins, there will be no access to mains power. Please ensure that you are self-sufficient in terms of charging your appliances by bringing things like spare batteries, lightweight solar panels or power packs to avoid frustration.

Can I arrive a day late?

There is a chain of transport to get teammates to the trailhead in Afghanistan from Dushanbe so start and end dates are not flexible.

Is it safe?

Secret Compass take a comprehensive approach to risk management, from pre-expedition planning to our highly qualified and experienced leaders on the ground – you can read more about our approach to risk here. If the situation deteriorates in the the area, and we make the decision to no longer use the planned itinerary, we have robust contingency plans in place including a well developed alternative itinerary.  We have been running expeditions in this area of Afghanistan since 2011 and have not needed to switch to our alternative itinerary so far, however we reserve the right to make changes without prior notice at any time, both before and during the tour.

Do you provide further advice?

Our Get Ready section useful, with further advice about fitness, flights, insurance, visas and our approach to risk management.

How can I join the team?

If you feel that the Handbook answers all your questions, you can request a space on the team by completing the booking form and submitting a deposit.

The Journal